The two most common questions I get asked when I tell people that I work as a theatre director are: “What does a director actually do?” and “Why do you want to direct theatre?”
Answering these questions succinctly can be difficult. A director does so many different things, and there are so many reasons why I want to make theatre. But there is one answer I always give and which I think speaks to both questions: theatre is about telling stories and a director endeavours to tell these stories clearly. A story told well in the theatre can be one of the most powerful ways to change how an audience sees the world around them.
One of the most deeply satisfying things about working on a production is the wholly unique insight into a life you might never normally know. Starting work on Snow in Midsummer, I was looking forward to learning more about a culture I could recognize, but perhaps not identify with.
As a British East Asian, I have some kind of a relationship with Chinese culture. I can’t say it is a particularly profound relationship, but my life has always had some form of Chinese influence through my family ties. However, having been born and lived in the UK my whole life, I have always identified more with British culture.
As we near the end of our fifth week of rehearsal, it’s clearer than ever that Snow in Midsummer is a universal story that deserves to reach well beyond just a 'Chinese audience’. It is a complex narrative exploring the universal themes of justice, sacrifice, love and family - and as we’ve been rehearsing over these weeks, I have felt a shift in my thinking and regard for Chinese culture. I have recognised in myself a deeper interest in the rituals and traditions of China - not just for production research or artistic purposes, but on a personal level too. For the first time I feel a sense of connection.
As we bring Snow in Midsummer to life in the rehearsal room, we see the Chinese way of life as an inextricable blend of old and new; ancient and modern; spiritual and religious. It has been a fascinating process learning about a new way of life, as flawed and imperfect as it may seem - and it has been wonderful to share this journey of discovery with a full company of other East Asian artists, all of whom have their own varying relationships with Chinese culture. As I anticipate our move to Stratford-upon-Avon, it’s wonderful to think that we get to bring this contemporary insight of a Chinese world to the Swan stage. And just as my own feelings about Chinese culture have shifted, I wonder whether some of our audiences might also be changed just a little by seeing the work.
I really hope so. Bring on the Swan - and see you in Stratford!